History stirs in Camp Floyd letters

Rare find reveals soldier's view of Utah in 1860

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue

Deseret News

Published: Saturday, April 11 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Of the 95 letters, DeLong said at least 36 or 37 were penned in Utah during the 18 months Clark was stationed here. Dickson said the find is significant. While official government communications such as military orders and commissions are not uncommon, more rare are the intimate musings from men in the field.

Amid the collection discovered by the DeLongs were six documents signed by U.S. presidents: one each from James Polk, Millard Fillmore and Abraham Lincoln, and three from Andrew Johnson.

"There's always excitement about presidential signatures, but the treasure I knew was there was the letters themselves," DeLong said. "The commission papers were nice, but this was the real find."

DeLong works in the lighting industry, has a home-based business selling gourmet nuts and has rental properties. It's enough to keep anyone busy without taking on the responsibility of organizing, documenting and putting together the pieces of a stranger's life.

But DeLong is mesmerized.

"I am enjoying it so much bringing this guy back to life. I feel like I've been there with him."

DeLong has never been to Utah, but through Clark's letters said he can visualize the impressive nature of the state.

Aug. 16, 1860, Great Salt Lake City continued:

"We left Weber River yesterday and shortly entered East Canyon, when we commenced the ascent to the crest of the Big Mountains of the Wasatch range, a distance of about 20 miles. This was an interesting portion of our route on account of the scenery, and the view from the crest of the mountain was the finest I had ever seen."

Later in the letter, he describes passing through Emigration Canyon and viewing the valley, conveying to Mary that the sight "was such as would gladden the poor emigrant after his long journey over the plains."

Clark's time in Utah was short-lived, given the boiling tensions back East that led to the Civil War. He was soon on the road again and the letters to Mary began to describe the despair and ugliness he witnessed on the battlefield.

He wrote of how good friends died, near-misses with Confederate soldiers and how at one point it seemed everyone had a bullet aimed at him as he retreated into the woods.

"The letters are wonderfully vivid," DeLong said. "I can picture him dirty and grimy after a long day of fighting, sitting in a tent by candlelight writing a letter to his wife."

Sept. 4, 1862: "The cause of the Union seems darker now than any previous time. It may, however, be followed by a daylight of hope. How many men, many of them useful citizens, have suffered during the last week? It is painful to contemplate. If the Union should be restored, the cost will be enormous in men, and should teach us to be more virtuous and to remove the political element more from our institutions."

A little less than two weeks later, on Sept. 17, Clark was severely wounded at the Battle of Antietam. The letters stop for about a year and Clark ends up back at West Point, where DeLong believes he taught philosophy until an act of Congress reduced teaching positions at the institution.

Mary died in 1890.

In 1906, Clark is described as good "Jersey stock" and a devoted, loving husband and father in a military order acknowledging his death.

DeLong is compiling Clark's letters to Mary into a book he already has given a name, "Kiss the Children for Me."

It's how Clark ended most all of his letters, DeLong said.

"I want to do this man justice. It's like I owe it to Joseph, Mary, Willie, their son, and all these people to bring them back to life."

E-MAIL: amyjoi@desnews.com

Readers interested in the progress of Vern DeLong's book can keep in touch with him at delongv@windstream.net

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